Ugly Americans

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I haven’t watched much of the Olympics, because I think it’s gotten over the top and I can’t believe that a poor country like Brazil is spending its hard earned money building stadia and athletes villages rather than trying to do something for its desperately impoverished people.  I did, however, hear about the purported robbery of Ryan Lochte and other U.S. swimmers.  It was an odd story that didn’t really make a lot of sense, but it fit with the narrative of Brazil being a dangerous place.

Now the Lochte story seems to be falling apart and exposed as a complete fabrication.  Brazilian authorities — who have reviewed video footage — say what actually happened wasn’t a robbery at all.  Instead, they say that the incident was a dispute between the Americans, who were returning early in the morning after being out partying, and employees at a Shell gas station about damage done to a restroom.  Authorities have now prevented some of the swimmers from leaving the country until they can get to the bottom of things.

The Brazilians are angry because they feel like the honor of their country has been besmirched.  I don’t blame them for that reaction.  Americans acting like jerks, and then failing to own up to their misconduct and instead trying to blame everyone else, is a classic example of ugly Americanism.  I don’t understand why Brazil — or for that matter, anyone — would want to host an Olympics, but the Brazilians obviously are proud of their host country status, and probably disappointed whenever there is some less than glowing publicity about their country and the games.  To have a fake story about a robbery get worldwide press attention must be intolerable.

Unfortunately, we’re long past the point where social mores would force a wrongdoer to do the decent, honorable thing, and apologize.  Already there are people who are excusing the Americans or downplaying what they did.  I wish people wouldn’t do that.  We’d all be better served if people started ‘fessing up, rather than shirking responsibility.  I hope that Lochte and his fellow parties do the right thing, admit to the truth, and say they’re sorry.  That would go a long way toward helping the citizens of the U.S. of A. avoid that “ugly American” label.

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Meanwhile, Back In The Real World

This week Aetna announced that it would be withdrawing from many of the states in which it offers health care plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.  Aetna participated in exchanges in 15 states, and it will be withdrawing from 11 of those 15.

mw-de672_aet_20_20150202162433_zhIt’s more bad news for “Obamacare,” which has seen other major insurers back away from offering plans, too.  Aetna says its decision is prompted by substantial losses it is experiencing on the exchanges, all of which arises from the fact that the pools of covered individuals has turned out to be sicker than was originally forecast — and therefore more likely to need expensive care.  If fewer insurers offer plans on the exchanges, there obviously will be less competition, and less choice.  As Aetna’s decision reflects, however, the effect will vary on a state by state basis.

In the meantime, premiums on the exchange plans are going up — and the “individual mandate” penalty for not having health insurance is ratcheting up, too.  In 2017, the average penalty will be $979 per household.  The question is whether the threat of having to pay a $1000 penalty will drive more people to enroll, and whether those currently uninsured people who do enroll will be healthier and therefore help to hold down the costs of the plans for the insurers who offer them, so more even insurers don’t exit the plans.  Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, the question has been whether the exchanges can avoid the “death spiral” in which enrollment shrinks, leaving only sick people in the plans, causing ever-greater losses and ever-increasing premiums that simply can’t be sustained.

The Affordable Care Act is unquestionably the signature domestic policy achievement of the Obama Administration.  It’s also another huge government program seeking to force behavioral changes that is anathema to both fiscal conservatives and social libertarians.  In any rational world, a presidential election would be a forum for discussing whether, and if so how well, “Obamacare” has worked — and what alternatives would be.

Of course, we don’t have such discussions about actual policy issues or the real-world performance of important initiatives like the Affordable Care Act in this election.  No, we’re too busy talking about Donald Trump’s latest idiotic foot-in-mouth-episode, or Hillary Clinton’s health issues, or other extraneous topics.  This is the most content-free presidential election in my memory.

We need to remember that the real world is still out there.